The Strange Case of Mortimer Fenley

The Strange Case of Mortimer FenleyThe Strange Case of Mortimer Fenley by Louis Tracy
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A stunning whodunit that was solved in one day! (Note the sarcasm). Two of Scotland Yard’s finest have been summoned to solved the ghastly murder of one Mortimer Fenley, a rich guy-and banker to boot, and you know how shady those guys can be. The detectives were depressingly one dimensional, the French Forneaux in the mold of a brilliant buffoon, and his boss Winter, a lumbering lug with a personality to match. Together they set out to solve a ridiculously improbable crime like another day at the office.

The story falls on its face from the beginning. Struggling artist John Trenholme sneaks onto the Fenley property to sketch the home and its manicured grounds. There he sees the the beautiful Sylvia, a ward of Mortimer Fenley, taking a dip in the lake. Hidden in the bushes, he observes-and paints the half naked beauty. It was during his voyeuristic dalliance that he heard the shot. He thought it unusual, given the populated area, but didn’t give it much further thought, even when he happened upon a policeman patrolling the area. Better scenario: Trenholme spots Sylvia by the lake. She strips to the buff and dives in. While Trenholme is pleasuring himself in the midst of this voyeuristic gift, the cop happens upon him. “Hallo there!” Well, it would have been less prudish than the book anyway.

Much of the book is dialogue, which is as one dimensional as the characters. Even when characters were thinking to themselves the dialogue was stiff. the characters thinking to themselves seemed contrived. No thinking in pictures, which would have dovetailed nicely, considering one of the protagonists was an artist.

The story would have been more interesting if hot Sylvia, and younger son Robert Fenley, who I imagined in the likeness of Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones were more involved in the story. Robert was a gun toting, motorcycle riding thug, and Sylvia, disgusted with both him and his older brother Hilton, was ready to jump on any man other than them. Enter John Trenholme. She apparently was turned on by the fact that Trenholme had spied on her and painted a scandalous account of her morning swim. But, in the world of Louis Tracy, her reaction was completely normal.

None of the characters knows what a girl wants; apparently, neither does the author.

Thus to romantic minds it was redolent of romance;
Chicks just love that stuff.

Trenholme the voyeur just happened to be trespassing once again, and kicked Robert’s ass and picked up the swooning girl. Chicks just love that stuff.

Sylvia, who had not been afraid to venture alone into the park at midnight, was now in a quite feminine state of fright
But she had trenholme to protect her. Chicks just love that stuff.

As with most books of this time period, there was an incidental amount of what would now be considered racism, but I doubt it was seen that way at the time. I guess you had to be there. But, we only get a Euro-Anglo perspective, and no doubt there is plenty a racism across the rainbow of skin color. I only make note of this because it had nothing to do with the story. These people also drank at every meal and were likely always over the legal limit. I only note this because it may have had a lot to do with the behavior of the characters.

I didn’t hate the book; it just didn’t hold my interest, and the deductions of the detectives seemed messy and hard to follow. No surprise since they were likely drunk and still able to solve the case in a day.

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